Pro Tips

Students: Want to do research? Here’s how to get started.

Three research experts suggest contacting professors early, choosing a subject that excites you and optimizing your writing.

Amber Dubiel, OMS I, has just started her medical career, but her research has already been published in the journal Neuroscience. Dubiel, who attends the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine-Bradenton (Florida), researched how autism affects auditory processing with Randy J. Kulesza Jr., PhD, a professor at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) in Erie, Pennsylvania; the pair began working together a few years ago, when Dubiel was a master’s student at LECOM.

Assisting with research offers medical students the chance to hone their scientific chops and delve into fields that interest them, but getting started can seem daunting. The DO recently spoke with Dubiel, Dr. Kulesza and Audrey Lusher, director of The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association (JAOA), about the advice they would give aspiring student researchers. Here are their tips.

6 tips for research success

  1. Be proactive. “The students who work with me over the summer are typically the ones who reached out in December or January to express their interest,” says Dr. Kulesza. Professors often mention their research during lectures or other conversations with students, he notes, so being attentive can help you identify opportunities that might be of interest.
  2. When you contact a professor about assisting with research, be professional and familiarize yourself with his or her project and previous work first. “Taking the first step of contacting professors can be scary, so it’s important to prepare,” says Dubiel. “You don’t want to say you’d like to help with a project but know nothing about what you would be doing.”
  3. Pursue a project you’re genuinely passionate about. “Advisors will see right through students who are trying to do research for the sake of research,” says Dubiel. “They want someone who will be self-motivated and invested in the project.”
  4. When submitting research for publication, be sure to follow the proper structure. The JAOA’s guidance for novice researchers offers an overview of the elements you’ll need, plus advice on choosing a journal and a look at how the submission process works.
  5. Two areas of your manuscript warrant extra polishing. “Your abstract and tables and figures are the most important elements of your research,” says the JAOA’s Lusher. “They are essential for telling your story in a concise way.”
  6. Your writing should be clear and readable. “Make sure your research doesn’t only make sense to you and your colleagues,” Dubiel advises. “I often read excerpts to my mom to see if what I’ve written is understandable to someone who’s not involved in the project.”

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